How Branded Legal Networks Help Smaller Firms Land Big Work
April 15, 2016
While legal marketing has certainly seen its share of fads over the years (remember phonebook advertisements?), sophisticated branded legal networks took hold about a decade ago, and continue to expand not only in the number of lawyers and firms that have signed on, but in the variety of marketing services members can now leverage. Among the most recognized networks are Martindale-Nolo and sister site Lawyers.com, along with venture-capital sweethearts Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom, which have landed a combined total of $110 million in VC funding. Dozens of others are out there, all designed to help solo attorneys and smaller firms increase their brand recognition and exposure to potential clients while maximizing their limited marketing budgets. In this month’s roundtable, four attorneys who rely on branded legal networks as part of their broader marketing strategies discuss how these networks continue to revolutionize their legal marketing strategies.
Nicholas Gaffney (NG) is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board and is a veteran public relations practitioner in San Francisco.
Joshua Eyestone (JE) is a licensed Social Security Disability (SSDI) attorney and senior director at Sanh.Bruce L. Atkins (BA) is a senior partner and co-founder of Deutsch Atkins, P.C. in Hackensack, New Jersey. Mr. Atkins has also been included in the Thomson Reuters list of New Jersey Super Lawyers in Employment Litigation since 5.Neil H. Deutsch (ND) is a partner and co-founder of Deutsch Atkins, P.C. He has been practicing lawaw.Stephanie Hendricks (SH) is the owner of Hendricks Law Firm PLLC and is a business lawyer and litigator licensed to practice law in New York and Oregon. She provides legal guidance primarily to entrepreneurs and business owners located in New York City.
NG: Why did you choose to use a branded legal network? How did you select which network to use?
JE: We use branded legal networks to provide our firm with interested potential clients (leads) who are looking for help in our practice area. We vet offers and work with vendors who have ethical client-facing websites and offers that are compliant with bar advertising rules. Beyond being compliant with the rules, we also chose vendors based on the effectiveness of a lead campaign. We test campaigns and know the performance behind each ad campaign we set up. We only continue to work with lead vendors who provide us with the best results over the long run.
As the largest legal marketing network, Martindale-Nolo is an example of one branded network we continue to use, because they provide the necessary volume and quality of leads we need to achieve pipeline goals.
BA: I can tell you I’ve been using Nolo for quite some time as it was my first attempt to get out onto the internet. This was back in the early 2000s, before I joined with Neil (ND). Before then, I personally didn’t even have an internet presence. Nolo generated some leads and at the time, justified its cost and actually created some profit.
ND: We backed into our “selection” of Lawyers.com and Martindale.com because of the website Martindale built for us. We were having issues with our then-current website provider and its parent company, which drove us right into Martindale’s arms.
SH: I became oriented towards using a branded legal network in law school when it became clear that lawyers typically were listed in the Martindale-Hubbell directory. I started law school in 1999 and graduated in 2002. It seemed to me that the Martindale-Hubbell directory was a form of validation, and that if a lawyer was not listed in that directory, then they were somehow not legitimate. I think that is where the idea of using a branded legal network took hold for me. After I established my own practice in 2010 and had to figure out how to market it, I noticed that the branded legal network websites tended to appear very high in search results, and I knew that as a solo lawyer, I would need to build up my business through soliciting business from the public by means of a quality website.
With respect to my choice of network, I started out with a service because it was affiliated with Martindale-Hubbell, it seemed very popular, and they sent a very convincing salesperson to my office who sold me on the service. I used that service for a while, but eventually stopped when I realized that I really was never happy with the look of the profile, the price, or with the service from the provider. I moved over to the provider that I use primarily now, Avvo, because it is very well-known in the Pacific Northwest where I practiced for several years before moving back to New York. I was very familiar with their brand and knew that the brand itself was very highly regarded in the Pacific Northwest. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had a pretty strong presence here in the Northeast as well, and so I essentially went back to what I knew. I have been very pleased with the quality of the service. I appreciate the look of the profile, their efforts to market each profile, the customer service personnel, and the price. I also recently joined Nolo because they appeared to have excellent search engine optimization, and, so far, I have also found their service to be quite good. I have noticed that my website is performing better because of the back link I have from that profile, and I have found their representatives to be very helpful and a pleasure to work with.
NG: How does working with a branded legal network impact your marketing strategy, and how do branded legal networks supplement other marketing methods?
JE: We can produce leads on our own, direct with pay-per-click campaigns on leading search engines, for example. But it took us several months and lots of work to produce pay per click campaigns that were price competitive with leads we buy, and there are scalability limits with pay per click too. We continue to buy leads from branded networks to diversify our sources, and to maximize high-value cases in good geography. For many firms, pay-per-click is too much work to build a campaign that would outperform lead vendors on price. Branded networks provide leads with opportunities deeper down the funnel – which is a more efficient marketing spend, compared to less targeted marketing (like TV or outdoor display/billboards.). Martindale-Nolo provides a highly-targeted lead generation program that allows us to target leads specifically by our practice-areas and location. Moreover, they only charge us for leads we receive; not by clicks or visits – both being metrics that are not reflective of actual leads.
BA: These networks are a plus, but it can be hard to get targeted traffic. That’s why we also do things like advertise on Bloomberg radio. We drive name recognition but not necessarily direct leads. My business historically has always come from word of mouth and recommendations from other attorneys. That is still my primary source of referral, and branded legal networks supplement that.
ND: Clearly, Google dominates everything as far as getting traffic. For us, a branded legal network like Lawyers.com drives traffic to our website. Prospective clients find our profiles there and then click through to our website, which is where our marketing is primarily focused.
SH: Branded legal networks take care of one essential component of legal marketing in my mind, which is to be listed among peers. There is esteem and validation when one can see themselves listed alongside their peers and, objectively, a consumer can look at that and perceive that a particular lawyer may be able to assist them because the lawyer is a part of the group. From there, the reputation of the particular service matters. This is why I chose the service that I started out with. Martindale-Hubbell really had established themselves as the standard in lawyer listing services, and it felt like a natural extension of being listed in Martindale-Hubbell, to be listed with their more commercial service. I later transitioned over to Avvo because I was very familiar with them and knew that their ratings system actually carries weight.
Also, branded legal networks serve as validation for when a potential client gets my name from a friend, another colleague, or from an Internet search where they found my website. It is my perception that if a lawyer happens to have negative information about them floating around on the Internet, or anywhere else, their affiliation with, and use of, a well-reputed branded legal network can go a long way to diminish negative perceptions that may arise about the quality of the lawyer’s work. That aspect frankly has been an essential tool for me in marketing my business over the past three years or so. They say that a person never gets a second chance to make a first impression, and I believe that a reputed ratings system provides a powerful first impression that can minimize negative impressions that may arise due to unfortunate information on the internet or anywhere else.
NG: How do you measure results from using a branded legal network? Has your work with a branded legal network yielded substantive and positive results?
JE: We measure the performance of every ad buy or campaign we set up. When we test out a new branded legal network’s leads we are comparing the results to our other options. Vendors that cannot produce competitive results never go beyond the test buy. Vendors that offer us better than average performance become long-term vendors. Our long-term relationships with branded legal networks have produced lower marketing costs to obtain new clients for our firm.
BA: We’ve received leads from Martindale and also from Nolo. We track results through weekly and monthly reports we receive but also through leads that convert to clients.
ND: It’s similar to a mass mailing where you get a 1% or 2% return, and that’s better than doing nothing at all. Lawyers.com does drive more traffic to our website and because our firm website is so easy-to-use and explanatory, we get more clients than we otherwise would.
SH: One of the networks with which I work includes analytical tools that permit me to see how many people have looked at and interacted with my profile in some manner. I have noticed that I get a lot of business from the branded legal network that I use primarily. Many people call my office and say that they found my profile on the service. Based on that, it is my belief that consumers perceive the service that I use and its ratings system to be reputable.
NG: What are the greatest benefits to using branded legal networks? What could be improved about them?
JE: Branded legal networks that offer lead generation services offer a big benefit to firms that are not yet familiar with marketing with leads. Unfocused or low targeted marketing like TV, billboards, or website banner ads will never compare with hyper-targeted leads relevant to your campaign. Lead campaigns are much more efficient than the old ways of lawyer marketing and yield faster and cheaper results.
For example, Martindale-Nolo not only provides us with a profile and directory listing on Nolo.com, but also a highly targeted lead generation service. Their network of sites, including DisabilitySecrets.com, DisabilityLawyers.com and other sites pertinent to our practice area, draw in 15M consumers per month – consumers looking for information about their case or a legal matter. Once there, 100,000 request to speak with an attorney every month, and we receive those inquiries within our practice area and location for direct follow-up.
The best way to get improvements from a campaign is to not let it become static. There are slight changes and options to each campaign that will marginally improve performance if you take the time to learn all the options and variables. If you are not meeting at least every couple months with your vendor and looking for ways to improve your campaign, you are missing an opportunity.
BA: One of the greatest benefits is the high number of inquiries we receive from our combined efforts with our firm website, Nolo, and Lawyers.com.
ND: Lawyers.com and Martindale.com help with our optimization. Google acknowledges authoritative links from places like Lawyers.com and it give us SEO juice.
At our firm, we are only interested in a certain type of customer, so further qualification of what is a good lead for us would be a positive improvement.
SH: To me, the greatest benefits are being listed among peers and the validation that comes with that, and the rating that may accompany a profile. I also believe that the search engine optimization component, where a search typically results in at least one of these legal networks coming up high in search results, makes the branded legal networks essential for lawyers who are trying to market their practices. They provide an essential opportunity for positive exposure to the public. And regardless of the stature of a particular lawyer or law firm, attracting consumers from the general public is essential for all businesses to thrive.
With respect to improvements, the only thing that I can think of is simply improvement of search engine optimization. What I mean by that is continued refinement so that when people do internet searches for lawyers even using general search terms, specific profiles of particular lawyers will show up in search results as opposed to just a general link to the branded legal network’s website. While I have done fairly okay for my business from a marketing perspective, I am no expert, and I am frankly very appreciative and pleased with the state of technology today. Unlike just 15 years ago or so, today, a person can step out on their own and make it if they simply put those precious marketing dollars to good use by implementing an effective online marketing strategy.
BY NICHOLAS GAFFNEY